Katie Wetherbee Offers HOPE for Parents with Special-Needs Children
By Lauri Gross
“You go through phases. You need a whole team. Then you need more than a team…When you have a kid like this you don’t realize how much help you do need,” said Marilyn (last name withheld), a Michigan resident and parent of a special-needs child. Marilyn’s son has neurological issues but, she explained, he is “very gifted musically.” She went on to explain that playing in their local Middle School jazz band is a “major feather in your cap.” She said, “We were at a real difficult time with our son who we knew might not be able to make it in jazz band because he can’t read music.” Then Marilyn found HOPE.
HOPE Mentoring, LLC is a Chagrin Falls-based organization helping families learn to be the best advocate for their special-needs child. HOPE (which stands for Helping Others Parent Effectively) has worked with more than 60 families in more than 20 school districts – including Kenston – since Katie Wetherbee and Suzanne Wilcox founded the organization in 2002.
“ Many times a family is coping with the realization that their child may have special needs. It’s not easy to endure. There is a lot of grieving,” said HOPE co-owner, Katie Wetherbee.
“ Katie was unbelievably instrumental in getting my son into jazz band,” said Marilyn. She told me the words to say. She listened….Basically she outlined what I needed to do for my son to make jazz band and I believe because she did that, this band director literally opened up her heart to listen. The band director didn’t know I had someone feeding me the lines. Katie said it would be like not providing wheelchair access to a handicapped student… The day I found out my son made jazz band, I called Katie.”
Katie said, “We are not advocates but we act as consensus builders. We go to see what’s available and how we can best suit the needs of that child with those resources. We think creatively. We see our job as educating parents so they become the best advocate for their child.
Both moms of special-needs children, Katie and her partner, Suzanne met while volunteering for their local school. Katie is an educator by training and Suzanne has professional management, sales and real-estate experience and founded a parent education network for a local public school. They created HOPE to fill a need for parent support services.
“ We share all our clients,” Katie explained. “Parents get two sets of eyes. We consult with each other on every case and brainstorm for ideas for those families. We call each other’s clients. We share all responsibility.”
Initially in the Chagrin Falls-area like Katie, Suzanne and her family recently relocated to Columbus which Suzanne and Katie both consider a good opportunity to expand HOPE Mentoring.
Echoing Katie, Suzanne said, “We help parents be the best advocate for their children. They instinctively know their child better than anyone else. When they know something is wrong they seek help and information and Katie and I provide support and information they need so they can articulate and feel comfortable about the service they request (from their child’s school.) We don’t take the part of speaking for the parent. We help them speak for themselves. I love what we do. It fills such a purpose. We are helping and making a difference.”
When a child qualifies for Special Education under the law, that child’s team writes an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Katie explained that the team usually includes the child’s parents, therapists, school administrators, teachers and also special education teachers. “Sometimes the family brings consultants or doctors,” Katie explained. “Often we are brought in too,” she said.
“ We work with Katie Poe (Timmons Elementary Vice Principal) and Joan Redmond (Timmons Principal),” Katie offered. “They sometimes recommend HOPE to parents…Schools have to be careful about that but they feel comfortable having us along because they know parents have questions.”
Katie Poe said, “It is great to have another problem-solver at the table when determining appropriate interventions for students. Katie Wetherbee has developed such positive working relationships with the families that, in partnership with parents, she may provide additional insights and suggestions to our school team about a child.” Joan Redmond agreed and added, “Katie Weatherbee has been so supportive and cooperative in achieving common goals for students.”
Katie Wetherbee said she “doesn’t know of any (organizations) in this area who do exactly what we do.” She said that there are 71 publicly funded parent mentoring programs in Ohio that are given to specific school districts and paid by state grants. “Their role is similar to what we do and they do, phenomenal work,” said Katie, “but not every district has a parent mentor. Suzanne and I volunteered in school and saw what a great need there was. We couldn’t secure a grant because there were not enough kids in our school district with IEPS so we decided to do it in private practice.”